Highlands/Sea Bright/Atlantic Highlands regionalization plan presented to Commissioner for Education
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – “We are confident that we will have the petition from the six entities to the Education Commissioner and that we will get his decision in time for the issue of regionalization to be put on the ballot in November,” said solicitor Matthew Giacobbe at the mayor and council workshop meeting. last night.
Giacobbe said the six groups working on regionalization, the three boroughs and the three school boards in the Highlands and Atlantic Highlands, are working in unison to get the final question to the commissioner because they are all d Okay, they all want this to be a “win-win-win situation” and not a vote win or lose. Boroughs must submit any questions for the November ballot to the state by Aug. 15.
The lawyer, who represents the Borough of Atlantic Highlands in the matter of school board regionalization and Sea Bright, also noted that the vote and decision will make history and that “towns across the state are watching you” to see how it will turn out. be decided.
Borough Administrator Robert Ferragina added that the tri-city borough administrators and their financial advisors had a meeting that morning with another meeting scheduled but not yet scheduled, to finalize the final details on the wording of the question. This is to ensure that the single question submitted to the commissioner has the support of all the entities involved. The two boroughs are working on a cost-sharing formula that ensures financial benefits to both, he said.
A regional district including Sea Bright will likely have financial and educational benefits for all three municipalities and their residents. Therefore, the distribution of additional income from the current three schools between the two cities is a matter on which the two cities must reach an agreement.
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Giacobbe said the question that will be on the ballot will be a simple yes or no question, and will include cost-sharing benefits for both cities inserted once the question is approved by the commissioner but before it is placed. on the ballot. He reiterated that with the reports he has received from the cost-sharing meetings and discussions, he expects the matter to be referred to the commissioner’s office no later than the end of this week.
The issue, once approved by the commissioner, will be the same for voters in the Highlands and Atlantic Highlands due to cost sharing, and somewhat different in Sea Bright as no funds will flow to that town. All three cities must approve their individual question for it to become a reality.
Regardless of what local officials send to the commissioner, she will then review it with state attorneys and regionalization professionals and review all supporting information that accompanies the request for approval, Giacobbe said. She can either approve the question, refuse to approve it, or make suggestions as to how it should be phrased to gain her approval for it to appear on the ballot.
The school superintendent, Dr. Tara Beams, well aware of the specifics of the issue of regionalization and its impact on educational aspects, answered several questions on these issues from the less than 30 people who have attended the workshop. She and Mayor Loretta Gluckstein said that once the issue is approved for a November vote, there will be numerous meetings of the various entities to provide the voting public with all the information needed to vote.
The question will be phrased in such a way that if voters vote yes, it will mean a regionalization of elementary schools and regional high schools, along with Sea Bright, into a single entity under one school board. A no would not allow the two elementary schools and Henry Hudson to merge into one district without the inclusion of Sea Bright.
With the approval of a new regional district, a single board of education would oversee education, with the likely split giving the Highlands and Atlantic Highlands four votes each, and Sea Bright having one vote on the board of nine members. That figure is determined, not by the number of students at the school, Beams and Giacobbe said, but by the number of people in each town based on the 2020 census. Currently, Highlands has 5 votes and Atlantic Highlands four votes on the Henry Hudson Regional Board of Education.
Dr. Beams also detailed some of the other areas that current districts are exploring for additional financial assistance from state aid stabilization grants. There is no discussion or change in the composition of the three current school buildings, and with a relatively low influx of pupils with the addition of Sea Bright, “we will not be fielding a football team for the next season” in the district that has never had a football team but has excelled in a number of other sports including gymnastics, track and field and basketball.
In response to questions, Giacobbe and Beams explained that under current law, if regionalization is approved, it is stabilized for at least ten years. If any cities wanted change after that, they would have to initiate an entirely new process similar to what is happening now under the law that the state legislature unanimously approved last year. However, the school superintendent said the board will work throughout these ten years to ensure that education standards as well as financial benefits remain satisfactory for all communities.
If one of the towns suffers a disaster – a devastating hurricane in Sea Bright was used as an example – the towns are still obligated to pay their share of the school budget. Giacobbe pointed out that in the event of a disaster, the state and federal governments step in with assistance since school district payments must be made by each city, even in the event of a tax default.
“I’m confident we’ll be timely in getting the matter to the commissioner with enough time for her to make the decision and have it on the November ballot,” Giacobbe said at the close of the session’s end. two hours.